The two large-scale choral works reissued on this two-disc Naïve release -- Haydn's Seven Last Words of Our Saviour on the Cross and Dvorák's Stabat Mater -- might appear on first glance to be an odd pairing, but their subject matter is closely related, the first dealing with Jesus' passion and the second with its effect on his mother. They are also works for which their composers created multiple versions, and they are presented here in their less familiar form. Haydn's first version of Seven Last Words of Our Saviour on the Cross was for orchestra, but he later created an arrangement for string quartet, which remains the most frequently performed, authorized an arrangement for keyboard, and finally, made this choral setting with vocal soloists. Dvorák originally wrote his Stabat Mater for soloists, chorus, and piano, and it's that recently discovered version that's heard here, rather than the popular version the composer later made with orchestral accompaniment, which includes three additional movements and other musical alterations.
Laurence Equilbey leads the French chamber choir Accentus and Akademie für alte Musik, Berlin in a lean, clean account of the Haydn, which gives the orchestra a central, rather than a merely accompanying role, as is appropriate for a work that was orchestrally conceived. The soloists are exceptionally fine, particularly a luminous Sandrine Piau. This version of the Stabat Mater lacks the grandeur of the orchestral version, but there is much to be said for the intimacy and delicacy that are gained. The piece makes a very different kind of impact when heard as a chamber piece, and any fans of the standard version should be interested in hearing the composer's first thoughts on the texts. Accentus is smaller than the full choirs that often perform the Dvorák, and the clarity and purity of their sound highlights the very personal nature of the texts. The soloists are not international stars, but they sing beautifully, with intense but unmannered expressivity. Naïve's sound on both discs is excellent: clear, present, and spacious.